Blue Lake, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Blue Lake - 5.1 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Blue Lake

Blue Lake

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)
Round-Trip Length: 5.1 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,525' - 11,355' (11,371' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +830' net elevation gain (+905' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Blue Lake - 5.1 Miles Round-Trip

Blue Lake (11,355') is located 2.55 miles from Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It fills a large, rocky cirque framed by Mt Toll, Mt Audubon and Paiute Peak.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The short hike is highlighted by Mitchell Lake, abundant wildflowers and a striking alpine backdrop. Unmaintained routes continue on to Upper Blue Lake, Mt Toll and Paiute Peak:

The Mitchell Lake Trail rises gently in a high subalpine forest to Mitchell Creek and the official Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary (.45 miles : 10,646'). It moves easily to Mitchell Lake, which occupies a broad, marshy flat at the base of Mt Audubon (.85 miles : 10,725').

The trail crosses Mitchell Lake's inlet on a long footbridge (1.1 miles) and steepens into the valley's center. Blue Lake's outlet pools up in several places along the way, forming a string of large ponds that are worth exploring. Look for moose in this willow-lined corridor.

The trail undulates through patchy krummholz with a good look at Mt Toll's conical summit. It clears treeline by a wide cascade and crests on the east shore of Blue Lake (2.55 miles : 11,355').

The open shore offers room to explore and a complete view of the upper valley including Little Pawnee Peak (12,466'), Mt Toll (12,979'), Paiute Peak (13,088'), and Mt Audubon (13,223').

Here the maintained trail ends, but a fairly intuitive route continues up the north shore to Upper Blue Lake (11,833'), which lies in a rocky bench below the Mt Toll - Paiute Peak saddle (3.35 miles : 11,901'). Strenuous and potentially technical cross-country routes continue on to Little Pawnee Peak, Mt Toll and Paiute Peak.

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Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

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  • N40 05.001 W105 34.910 — Mitchell Lake Trailhead
  • N40 05.145 W105 35.309 — .4 miles : Cross Mitchell Creek
  • N40 05.215 W105 35.669 — .9 miles : Mitchell Lake
  • N40 05.200 W105 35.836 — 1.1 miles : Cross Mitchell Lake inlet
  • N40 05.204 W105 36.213 — 1.5 miles : Bend south into center of valley
  • N40 05.070 W105 36.702 — 2.0 miles : Moderate climb on rocky trail
  • N40 05.240 W105 36.870 — 2.35 miles : Travel beside Blue Lake outlet
  • N40 05.308 W105 37.050 — 2.55 miles : Blue Lake

Worth Noting

  • Blue Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Moose are common in the Blue Lake area, typically in late summer-early fall after passes along the Continental Divide have cleared. Elk can be seen on higher ridgelines, while marmots are common along the trail.

  • Blue Lake is one of four lakes in the Indian Peaks' 4 Lake Travel Zone (the others are Mitchell Lake, Long Lake and Lake Isabelle). Given its heavy use, camping is not permitted in this zone June 1 - September 15.

  • The Blue Lake trail can be wet, muddy and snow covered well into summer. Remain on designated trails and avoid trampling on delicate vegetation.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight camping in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Travel Zone May 1 - Nov 30 (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle).

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

  • Campfires are prohibited east side of the Continental Divide in the Four Lake Travel Zone.

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.

  • Packstock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Travel Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.

  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $10 fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Fees, Parking, Pet, Camping and Trespassing regulations are strictly enforced.

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times on trails within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Directions to Trailhead

Blue Lake is accessed from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The trailhead is located 5.7 miles west of CO 72 (Peak to Peak Highway) on Brainard Lake Road. Brainard Lake Road is located 13 miles north of Nederland, and just northwest of Ward.

From Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road and drive 2.7 miles to the entrance station. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Continue 3 miles to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (follow signs). The road is closed between the fee station and trailhead from late October through late June or early July (depending on snow). Parking at the trailhead is limited. Additional roadside parking is available in designated spaces only.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Visitor Information
303.541.2500

Comments

"My son was born yesterday and there are pictures all over the hospital of this lake and that area and 2 of my buddies and I did this hike starting from monarch couple months ago it was beautiful and amazing grAt hike a lil rainy but worth it amazing place to be, a lake on top of the continental divide at 11,000 feet we filtered water from blue lake and it felt amazing to be ingesting amazing energy in that spot I felt so powerd up after the lake beverage I suggest any one who is adventurous to take some out of there life and go include your self in the beauty of this out standing lake talk about uplifting ur self !"
Dalton  -  Granby  -  Date Posted: February 6, 2014
"One of the best hikes in all of Colorado!"
jarls  -  Boulder, COlorado  -  Date Posted: March 7, 2013
"Is fishing allowed? The kind you can eat.....no mercury...not just catch and release."
Dana  -  Aurora  -  Date Posted: February 13, 2013
"Family of 4 moose at Brainerd. Hike up to blue warm and perfect. Not badly crowded. CO72 sublime colors. With bfast at Sundance near Ned can't be beat. "
Tim Beres  -  Brainerd and Blue  -  Date Posted: September 14, 2012
"Ancient History dept. Beautiful Hike, I use to go there regularly when I lived in Denver in the early eighties. Even then, I was pretty much a C potato. Last time I went was with my wife, couple days after our wedding in Central City. Beautiful place. Renew yourself, each time you go, remind yourself that you are new when you visit with this beautiful place, each time, you will find you are younger than when you set out. "
kevin  -  baton rouge  -  Date Posted: August 13, 2012
"Wonderful half day hike. Trail in very good condition. Observed a bull moose close to Blue Lake. Several terrific viewing spots at the lake. Worth your time and effort $9.00 entrance fee. Heavy usage, get to parking lot early. "
James  -  Chicago, Il  -  Date Posted: August 7, 2012
" We saw 3 moose at Brainard Lake on the way up- great way to start the day. Got to the trailhead around 8:30 or so- parking was running out but we snagged a spot. WONDERFUL trail! Lots of wildflowers on the way up and several smaller, pretty lakes--- but definitely don't stop until you make it to Blue Lake. What a beautiful spot. Will definitely be visiting again!"
Susannah  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: August 4, 2012
"Absolutely Gorgeous. However, I disagree with the noted distance. With my gps, I calculated it closer to 3.5 miles up to Blue Lake. "
Melissa  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: July 23, 2012
"Absolutely stunning hike, my favorite scenic one I've ever been on. Completely melted out, flowers everywhere https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-sO4bqM1_dmg/T_TAGL8crkI/AAAAAAAAPL0/jELO5TTryWI/s912/DSC_0080.jpg"
Aaron  -  Littleton, CO  -  Date Posted: July 5, 2012
"Still a lot of snow. Little help with GPS, found the lake. You can see my pics on my facebook page at Dizmang Photography. Lake was still completely frozen"
 -   -  Date Posted: June 5, 2012

 

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